Berkeley’s City Council Tuesday night debated how the city’s disaster preparedness program has been disproportionately adopted in the hill districts, and left vulnerable — and generally poorer — districts in the flats far behind in terms of both training and allocation of emergency caches.
A report from the Disaster & Fire Safety Commission (DFSC) featured a map showing the heavy concentration of emergency caches in Districts 5 and 6, and a thin scattering in Districts 3 and 4. The caches are containers of equipment awarded to communities who have demonstrated a minimum level of readiness, which includes completing a certain amount of emergency training. There are currently 79 caches in total in the city’s neighborhoods.
The map you have on the screen is just depressing for me,” said District 2 Council Member Darryl Moore. “Having 70% of the caches in the hill districts for me is just not acceptable. It shows there’s something wrong with the plan. We need to rethink how we reach out to those folks.”
In a time of straitened budgets, the council found itself in an unusual position: a substantial funds surplus provides an opportunity to dramatically augment the disaster preparedness programs. In 2008, Berkeley voters approved Measure GG “to enable the City to keep fire stations open and improve emergency medical response and disaster preparedness.” According to reports at Tuesday’s meeting, GG has been effective in its aim. But GG generates about $3.6 million annually, and the existing set of GG-funded projects and activities consumes far less money. In fiscal year 2013, the fund will have a surplus of between $650,000 and $1.1 million.
The DFSC proposed to Council that two full-time positions be created: one in the Public Health Division dedicated to disaster preparedness in vulnerable and underserved populations, emphasizing South and West Berkeley; the other in the fire department, augmenting the efforts for neighborhood outreach and program maintenance. Additionally, the DFSC recommended an annual $70,000 for disaster preparedness training.
City staff additionally proposed annual funds to subsidize automatic gas shutoff valves, a debris box program, and program maintenance for existing caches. Staff also recommended a $300,000 fund reserve be maintained.
Council members supported the recommendations, but sought to increase the annual funds to $20,000 for shutoff valves, $25,000 for debris boxes, and an additional $15,000 for emergency caches. To fund the increases, council members agreed to reach the intended fund reserve over two years rather than one.
At the end of the evening, council members unanimously asked city staff to prepare a plan that could be implemented for the GG surplus. But on the way to that unanimity, tensions broke out between representatives of the hills and the flats.
“The Hayward fault doesn’t run through the middle of the city,” said District 8′s Gordon Wozniak. “It runs through district 6 and district 8. There may be reasons why you’d want more caches in some areas.”
Wozniak suggested that plans needed to be made in particular for residents who lived east of the fault, who could be cut off from many emergency efforts in the event of a major earthquake.
“This clock has been ticking for 150 years, and we’re lucky it hasn’t struck,” said District’s 3′s Max Anderson. ”The lives of people in the flatlands are just as valuable as the people in the hills.”
Anderson was particularly concerned that his district and other flatland districts had been shortchanged in the allocation of caches.
“The first caches were Cadillac caches,” he said. “But is it fair to distribute lesser caches in different parts of the city?”
Commission chair Lynn Zummo said that the “Cadillac caches” (which cost $13,000 each) had been distributed one per district. Since then, only pared down caches that cost about $3,300 had been distributed.
District 6′s Susan Wengraf cautioned that a focus on caches was missing the more important element of disaster preparedness.
“The focus here has been on the cache, but the focus should be on the training,” she said. “The cache is the award for the training.”
Anderson and council member Linda Maio said that the city should consider reinstating Community Action Teams as a way to generate more neighborhood training and awareness. The teams were formed in 1999 after a health department study that said Berkeley had the worst low birthweight gap between African-American and white babies in the country. Members of the teams were paid stipends to collect data and help with recommendations.
Buying power: Berkeley’s approach to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) was debated at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting. CCA is a system which allows cities to aggregate the buying power of individual consumers in order to secure alternative energy contracts. Berkeley is examining whether to join an East Bay MUD CCA.
The Energy Commission presented a series of questions for EBMUD on the CCA, but did not have a recommendation. This put the commission at odds with the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, which presented a list of principles for the CCA which included “procuring electricity with the highest possible ‘renewable’ attributes from sources that are located in or near the Bay Area”.
Scott Murtishaw said the commission did not agree with all the principles of the coalition. “There were conclusory statements made about the benefits of local energy which are not supported by any evidence that I know,” he said. Murtishaw said the reason why the commission had not brought a recommendation to the council was a lack of time.
The City Council agreed that the Energy Commission should reach a recommendation on the CCA at its October meeting, and the council will consider it in November. The council plans to present its recommendation to the board of EBMUD for its December meeting.
Bond refunding: The City Council also heard a report on the refunding of 1999 lease revenue bonds and 2003 certificates of participation, from finance director Robert Hicks. The bonds and certificates will be refinanced at 3.1%, providing a saving to the city of $5.1 million, including just under $1 million in the first year. Hicks also noted that Berkeley had received a AA rating on the lease revenue bonds, the highest rating the city has ever received.
For when that disaster comes, Berkeleyans be prepared [11.14.11]
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